Class size dilemma

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MORE than 2,000 Wigan primary school children are being taught in overcrowded classrooms.

Of these 93 are infants who, by law, should not be in classes of more than 30.

However, headteachers are saying that a growing number of get-out clauses means that few schools are these days getting into trouble for exceeding the limit.

Wigan’s cabinet member for education, Coun Susan Loudon (pictured), said that the local authority tried its best to keep class sizes down, but it has no power over independent appeals panels which can bump up numbers. She also conceded that the interests of an individual child can sometimes be more important than a school’s.

In 1998, it was made illegal for children aged five to seven to be taught by one teacher in groups of more than 30. The then Government also stated that it was not desirable for that number to be exceeded at junior level either although it stopped short of a ban.

Unsurprisingly latest Greater Manchester figures show that areas have far more 30-plus junior classes than infants, but the latter category still accounts for 3,691 children. Wigan’s number of infants in outsized classes is one of the lowest, while 1,853 juniors are taught in larger-than-recommended groups: slightly above the average.

Over the county the problem appears to be getting worse yet only five classes – one in Manchester, one in Tameside and three in Salford – have actually been deemed to be breaking the law because of the increasing number of loopholes.

Coun Loudon said: “It is a really difficult situation. The appeals panels these days are independent of the local authority and are looking to the parents’ case and deciding whether the needs of the child outweighs the needs of the school.

“Of course every parent wants the optimum for their child: usually the best local school and/or the one that is closest to home. There are enough places for every child in the borough and we also plan ahead if we know there is an increase in births by putting in extra classrooms. If every child went to the school they were first offered none of our classrooms would be over-subscribed.

“But some parents put forward very good cases which sway the appeals panel and so they can enter classes which already have 30.”

Coun Loudon said that she didn’t feel that having classes of 29 or 31 made that much of a difference in itself if teaching and facilities were good, but she pointed out that a lot of classrooms were only designed to take a maximum of 30 and overcrowding did negatively affect learning.